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National Grid reaches out to job hunters with learning difficulties

Successful businesses need to seek out top talent, and who’s to say that talent isn’t living with a disability or learning difficulty? That is the view of Emma FitzGerald, director of gas distribution at National Grid, who was diagnosed with dyslexia relatively late in life, in her 30s. She is committed to supporting a range of National Grid initiatives aimed at helping students with learning difficulties to realise their potential.

Emma can only speed read, pulling out the essence of what people are saying from the mass of words on the page. As her career progressed and she became more senior, she realised that having to be selective in this way could be a strength. She feels she has turned her own personal challenges into advantages, focusing on the big picture rather than getting bogged down in detail, which means that the business benefits from her clear thinking and grasp of the key issues.

In the eighteen months since she joined National Grid, she believes her public discussion of her learning difficulties has helped to foster greater openness, leading to other senior people being more willing to speak out about their own challenges.

Building a supportive environment

Last year, Emma took on chairmanship of National Grid’s Enabling Employee Resource Group, which seeks to help people with disabilities fulfil their potential, raises awareness of issues around disability and employment and helps the organisation to see the ability in everyone. It is a volunteer organisation with a steering group of nine. Around 200 employees are regularly involved and it has the scope to reach out to many more, including anybody who has some knowledge of disability or a friend or family member with disabilities.

Another initiative that is changing the culture at National Grid is the EmployAbility programme, which offers students with learning difficulties internships that prepare them for work. Emma says that the impact the interns are having on people around them encourages a climate of adaptability and experimentation. There are currently 12 interns on the programme, and four out of five of the first year’s intake have now found work.

National Grid is also taking steps to ensure its recruitment is accessible to all. Its Generation Talent initiative is examining recruitment processes to ensure that they don’t exclude unemployed young people, some of whom will have a disability or learning difficulties. Emma explains that research shows the way companies word job adverts or the way they conduct interviews can put young unemployed or disabled people off making applications, and this initiative is intended to make sure National Grid’s approach to hiring is truly inclusive.

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